As many of you know. the National Novel Writing (NANO) month begins in November. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, writers sign up and commit to writing 50,000 words (or more) in one month.  It is a really good way to motivate yourself to sit down and write every day.

Kristen Lamb gave some good advice about adding structure to the NANO process in her blog Structure Part 1–Anatomy of Best-Selling Novel–Structure Matters. Check it out here.

Another strategy to bring to NANO is the development of your characters. I know, I know, I harp on this a lot. But to me trying to write a novel without building character is like baking bread with no leavening agent. You wind up with a hard, flat piece of unappetizing gook. Yes, gook is a technical term.

As I’ve said before, the writer really needs to know the characters inside and out.  Starting with the out, let’s discuss appearance. Yesterday, I mentioned how I keep a character board next to my desk with images representing  various characters and their  environments as a visual tool during the writng process.









Such tools are great ways to “flesh out” the characters. Once the writer has an idea of the appearance he/she wants for a character, the next step is  filtering the information into the novel in small subtle ways. No reader wants to be taken out of the story and have to read two pages of descriptions. But, if done correctly, the hints of description will invoke in the reader an image of that character. Often readers (like me) will cast the characters of the novel with actors or performers who could play those characters in movies.

Janet Evanovich is an example of a writer who works this strategy brilliantly. In her Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money etc), her descriptions of Shephanie, Ranger, Morelli, Grandma Mosur. Lula and others led me to cast my own favorites in the starring roles. Remember that the first of the Plum novels, One for the Money,  was published in the 1990s, therefore, I’ve had to think about younger actors as the series continued.  I’m sure the actors who will be appearing in One For the Money movie hitting theaters in 2012 will be great. Still, the original cast would have been awesome.

Following are some of Janet’s snippits of description from One for the Money and my resulting cast choices.

The  first description of Stephanie comes in her first point viewpoint as she’s driving her soon-to-be-repossessed Miata to her parents house for dinner.

“This afternoon I’d decided to ignore the August buildup of ozone catching me in the back of my throat and go, convertible top down, in my Mazda Miata. The air conditioner was blasting flat out, I was singing along with Paul Simon, my shoulder-length brown hair was whipping around my face in a frenzy of frizz and snarls, my ever vigilant blue eyes wer cooly hidden behind my Oakleys, and my foot rested heavy on the gas pedal.”

Who else could I see but Sandra Bullock.

For Morelli, the ex-bad boy who became a Trenton NJ homicide copy, I chose Aiden Quinn, and for Ranger, the mysterious ex- special forces soldier who works as a bounty hunter, I picked, who else, the Rock.

Grandma Mazur, Stephanie’s Hungarian grandmother, is one of the most humorous and lovable characters in the book. In the following passage, she asks Steph, “You think I’d look good in them biker things?” From Stephanie’s point of view, Evanovich  tells the reader: “Grandma Mazur had knees like doorknobs. She’d been a beauty in her time, but the years had turned her slackskinned and spindle-boned. Still, if she wanted to wear biker shorts, I thought she should go for it. The way I saw it, that was on the the many advantages of living in New Jersey–even old ladies were allowed to look outlandish.”

After reading this, I immediately cast Cloris Leachman as Grandma.

As a result of Evanovich’s masterful descriptions, her characters are vivid and memorable and keep the readers wanting to see more of their stories.

Who would you cast for the movie version of your novel?






About Sharon K Owen

I am a fiction writer, a university professor, a copy editor and an online writing teacher. My first Romantic Suspense: Thicker Than Water (Brands Crossing Series) was published in 2011 and the second book in the series, Whatever Goes Around, will be published in 2016. My short stories and poetry have been published in Descant, Concho River Review, Iron Horse, American Literary Review, Trinity Writer's Workshop newsletter and collections of Christmas stories. I am blessed with a loving, supportive family, a multitude of friends and the good fortune to share a cozy sanctuary in North Texas with my two cats (Matt and Cinders).

Posted on October 3, 2011, in Book Recommendations, Writers, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Love the collage; that’s a great visual aid for writing.

  2. It’s so funny that you talk about this…it’s very similar to how I outline my characters.

    I create spreadsheets with their bios and a full color picture next to it. It helps me to keep a clear, detailed description of them in the front of my brain.

    I like the idea of having several photos, etc in the writing space (not just on my computer). I have a white board and some room I can use to put up pictures.

    Thanks for the great idea!

    • Thanks Kate.
      I am so visual I have to imagine my characters in 3-D and know all their quirks. I’m thinking you remind me a lot the protagonist Kate O’Donnell in my novel Thicker Than Water Brands (Crossing Series). She was also interested in all things Celtic and named her Irish Setter Connal (nickname Con) which means King or high and mighty in Irish history. Tell me where to find your books, I want to read them.

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